Che Guevara and Debussy to a Disco Beat
Naturally, despite the fact that the show itself was pretty atrocious from start to end, I am delighted that Pet Shop Boys won an award for Outstanding Contribution to Music at the Brits last night.
It’s only in recent years that I’ve come to appreciate how truly marvellous they are, and they have sort of snuck into the top spot of my list of favourite bands – even ahead of the Holy Trinity themselves, the Human League.
It’s probably shouldn’t be a surprise. As a bookish, reserved, melancholic, awkward, wannabe-intellectual gay it is somewhat inevitable that Neil Tennant should write the soundtrack to accompany my life. And my most significant relationships are echoed in so many of their songs it’s untrue. (When I was dating one for example, Jealousy and Domino Dancing chimed enormously with me, which in retrospect should have been a sign, and Nervously describes me in every single one I’ve had…)
It’s not entirely unfair that they get labelled as a gay band. It’s a frequent theme of theirs, touching on tragic gay bars (To Speak Is a Sin), failed gay utopias (Go West), the effect of Aids (the Being Boring trilogy, Dreaming of the Queen), closet homosexuals (Can You Forgive Her?, Bet She’s Not Your Girlfriend) and so on.
But to dismiss them as just a gay band is wrong as their subject matter ranges far and wide. They’ll have a pop at Morrissey (Miserabalism), fame-hungry nobodies (Shameless), Peter Mandelson (I Get Along), George W Bush (I’m With Stupid), ID Cards (Integral) and, amusingly, popstars who pronounce on politics (How Can You Expect to Be Taken Seriously?). They’ll touch on Role-Strain, something I suffer from quite badly sometimes (Too Many People), fascism (Delusions of Grandeur), post-war difficulty (Up Against It) and deluded businessmen (Single) to name but a few.
Basically, they tackle more diverse subjects than most non-pop acts so it was about time they were recognised.
But I think what sets them apart is their bloody-minded refusal to do what people expect. It annoys people who just want them to put out another Very-esque album of disco stompers (even though that album isn’t actually that disco heavy), but it means they’ve a rich and varied catalogue which always sounds quintessentially them whilst regularly sounding like nothing you’ve heard them do before.
It also means that the claims of “a return to form” which have, bizarrely, been thrown at their last and next albums, are invariably wide of the mark. They can’t return to form, because they never actually left it, they just didn’t do what you expected.
And of course I love them because they’re not a rock act. They like dance music and they like pop music, like I do, and they manage to make both intellectually satisfying. “Depth through surface” is how they were once described, and I think that’s a fantastic result to achieve.
Here’s to more!